Notebook: Banged-up Panthers relieved to have a week to rest
The Pitt football team has a bye this week — and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
The Panthers are beaten and battered, particularly after a 37-26 victory at Texas A&M this past Saturday that saw a number of players leave with injuries.
Coach Walt Harris was not available Sunday to give the prognosis of the wounded, but it’s a good bet he’ll do all he can to rest and rehabilitate them in the 12 days leading to an Oct. 11 meeting with Notre Dame at Heinz Field.
Senior linebacker Lewis Moore left in the second quarter with an unspecified injury and never returned. Defensive end Claude Harriott left in the third with a right ankle sprain, and wide receiver Chris Curd left in the first with a knee injury and returned sporting an air cast and crutches.
Also, starting center Justin Belarski (foot) did not play for the second consecutive week and backup guard Matt Maiers is out for the season with a torn ACL.
Starting tailback Brandon Miree missed the contest with a calf injury, but Harris indicated he’ll be ready long before the Notre Dame game. Junior wideout Princell Brockenbrough did not start due to a sprained ankle, but returned to catch three passes for 100 yards with an acrobatic 20-yard touchdown reception.
“We were beat up,” Harris said. “But we got through it. Hopefully, we’ll get these guys back healthy.”
The Pitt defense, porous the past two weeks, finds itself in the lower regions of the NCAA standings.
Out of 117 Division I-A schools, the Panthers rank No. 98 in pass defense at 264.5 yards allowed per game, No. 81 in total defense at 385.0, No. 47 in scoring at 21.5 points yielded per contest and No. 39 against the rush at 120.5 yards per game.
In 2002, the defense was the strength of the team, ranking in the top 25 in all of those categories.
Over the past two games, they’ve yielded 1,095 total yards, including 778 through the air, and have registered just one sack for minus-2 yards.
Texas A&M scorched them for 544 and reeled off big play after big play. The Aggies had runs of 36, 33, 28, 26 and 16 yards and passes of 36, 26 and 20 yards.
“If you look at the stats, we’re not pleased,” said sophomore free safety Tez Morris, who had 11 tackles Saturday. “We gave up too many points and too much yardage.”
Despite the defense’s shortcomings, true freshmen linebackers Clint Session and H.B. Blades were stalwarts.
Session, who replaced Moore, led the team with 17 tackles, including two for losses. Blades had four stops, including a blast on Texas A&M quarterback Reggie McNeal that knocked him out of the game late in the third quarter.
The possibility exists that Session could take over the middle linebacker spot when Moore returns and Moore could move to the strongside, where he played the previous three years. The Pitt coaching staff is doing what it can to get the young players from Florida on the field.
“Because we’re freshmen, we’re not in a situation where we have to be leaders,” Session said. “But we have to take charge every now and then.”